“Tonga Marks LDS Centennial with Nationwide Celebrations,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 106–7
Latter-day Saints and their neighbors of other faiths in Tonga celebrated the centennial of the Church in their country with a variety of special ceremonies and festivities during the latter part of August.
Three General Authorities represented the Church during the celebrations, which were held throughout the island kingdom. In honor of the centennial, Tonga issued two commemorative stamps bearing photos of the temple in Nuku‘alofa, and August 19 was declared a national holiday.
Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve; Elder John H. Groberg of the Seventy, a former mission president in Tonga; and Elder Douglas J. Martin of the Seventy, president of the Pacific Area, visited Tonga for the activities. Princess Fusipala, a niece of Tonga’s king and a member of the Church, also participated in commemorative activities.
Celebrations took place in each of Tonga’s three major island groups. The activities included not only meetings with government officials, but also feasting, singing, and dancing. A dance festival on Tongatapu featured 2,700 Latter-day Saint youth; the youth were introduced to the king and queen as “the future of Tonga,” and the royal pair seemed impressed by what they witnessed, Elder Groberg recalled.
Elder Nelson represented the Church in presenting a major gift to the people of Tonga—hospital equipment and supplies (from infant cribs to antibiotics) that will benefit anyone who is ill, regardless of his or her religious affiliation.
“I was very favorably impressed with the spirit of religious tolerance and the importance of religious plurality in the Kingdom of Tonga,” Elder Nelson said. He noted that when centennial events were being planned, leaders of other churches came to LDS leaders and said, “This is our celebration, too. We want to participate.” They took part in preparations and in the events themselves, even providing part of the food for some of the feasts.
What happened in Tonga could be a “marvelous example” for societies in other parts of the world “where they tend to divide communities because of religious or political differences,” Elder Nelson said. “I was really pleased to see this model of tolerance and mutual cooperation in Tonga.”
The celebrations in Tonga began on August 13 and continued through August 27. They culminated what had begun earlier with celebrations in areas outside of Tonga. In the United States, those earlier activities also drew both Latter-day Saint participants and those of other faiths from Tongan communities. (See Ensign, Oct. 1991, p. 77.)
On August 26 and 27, Elder Groberg dedicated new chapels in Tonga. Elder Nelson dedicated a new chapel on August 18. About thirty-one thousand of the island nation’s one hundred thousand-plus population are Latter-day Saints.
The first Latter-day Saint missionaries arrived in Tonga in July 1891. Progress of missionary work was slow, Elder Groberg said, and the mission was closed for a time. When it was reopened after the turn of the century, missionary work was more successful because of the establishment of Latter-day Saint schools, some of which are still in operation. Though there was prejudice against the Church earlier, in the past three decades it has been replaced by a warm spirit of cooperation. This cooperation was manifest in the nationwide celebration of the Church’s centennial.
Today it is not unusual in Tonga to see Church members who are prominent in government service, business, or agriculture, Elder Groberg commented.